This week’s Memorable Movie Moment takes us back to Steven Spielberg‘s shark-attack nightmare: 1975’s Jaws. This movie is the reason why all of our parents are afraid to go into the water. Jaws was Steven Spielberg’s breakout movie. It won 3 Oscars for Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, and was also nominated for Best Picture. All that, however, came with an extremely stressful production and a brutal film schedule that ended up expanding from 55 to 155 days. Needless to say some recognition from the Academy was definitely warranted.
One of the biggest problems was actor Robert Shaw (From Russia with Love, The Sting). Though he was respected as an actor, he was in a heavy battle with alcoholism. This caused high tensions on the set, especially with fellow actor Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Mr. Holland’s Opus). Shaw would have a drink between takes, but according to lead actor Roy Scheider (The French Connection, All That Jazz) it only took one before he was already off the wall. This caused him to totally flop the initial take of the USS Indianapolis scene, which is today’s Memorable Movie Moment.
During the scene, Quint (Shaw) describes the events surrounding the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945, which carried the first operational atomic bomb for the invasion of Japan. In the initial take, Shaw decided that, since the scene was at night and the men were supposed to be drunk anyway, he would drink and do the scene. Unfortunately he was so drunk that nothing in the performance could be used. The story goes that Shaw was so ashamed he went to Spielberg to ask for another take, and the next day he delivered this stunning performance sober, and all in one take.
Shaw, however, was by no means the only problem with the production. In fact the whole thing seemed to be doomed from the very start. Spielberg was not only dealing with an unfinished script when filming began, but also with a number of other major issues. His first problem was that he was actually shooting the movie in the ocean, just off the shore of Martha’s Vineyard. This required all of the crew, actors, sound and film equipment, and everything else to be set up on open water, dealing with both wind and ocean currents. This prompted Spielberg to shoot using all handheld cameras, and even shooting from water level to give the audience better perspective in the water.
Another significant problem was the mechanical sharks made for the film at $250,000 a pop. The sharks, which Spielberg took to naming Bruce after his lawyer, continuously broke down throughout the production, even sinking when they were first put in and forcing the crew to dive down and retrieve it. One particular accident even saw some cameras still containing undeveloped film submerged in water, prompting Spielberg to send it to a special development lab in order to save the film (which thankfully they did). But all problems aside, Jaws went on to be a major success, becoming the first summer blockbuster, and spawning three sequels. Here now for your viewing pleasure is Robert Shaw reciting the story of the USS Indianapolis. Enjoy!